Sept 2009 - ASLEF's getting bigger

01 June 2013

Over the last couple of months the union has had applications to join us from over 189 train drivers on the main lines and operators on London Underground. That makes us one of the fastest growing unions in the country. I have to say that I’m delighted, not just because it boosts our numbers but because it puts our specialist union in a better position to improve the pay and conditions of every train driver in the country.

ASLEF represents the vast majority – some 90% - of the UK’s train drivers but I won’t be content until we work for them all. The higher the proportion of members we have in a company, the more vigorously we can argue on their behalf. Non-members not only sponge off our union, they also weaken it. Every driver who joins another association wastes their money and divides our train driving community.

ASLEF hasn’t been so healthy for years. I’m sure that our improved status within the railway industry and our commitment to democracy and transparency are useful. But people are also joining for more personal reasons. They see threats to our jobs and want collective strength, and they enjoy being part of the ASLEF family of specialised independent professional train drivers. Train drivers have a unique skill – and a unique union to match.

I’m really grateful to everyone concerned for efforts they have made in this recruitment effort. There are too many folk to name, but Alan Moir up in Scotland and a host of people in London Underground – like Steve Grant, Dave Feldwick and Alistair Reay – have done sterling work and a special thank you to Eddie Chick of St Pancras.

Making train drivers exclusively ASLEF members also prevents our grades being used by others for their own purposes. More than one union wants our members in order to use our industrial strength for their own purposes and objectives, both industrial and political.

We saw an example of this recently when another rail union was taking action. In these circumstances we always offer our members the same advice: although it is not our dispute we always say we will back to the hilt any driver who feels he cannot cross the picket line of another union. But this, it seems, is not enough for some. They wanted ASLEF to instruct its members to come out on strike as well.

We can’t and won’t accept this. We make decisions on behalf of our own grades. We cannot afford to be dictated to by people outside. We have a proud tradition of backing other working people but for another union to criticise us for ‘refusing to back’ its dispute is plain daft. We’d be out on strike for issues utterly remote from us most days of the week.

We’re sorry for unions that don’t have our industrial influence. But we can’t be in the business of fighting their battles for them. It’s one of our strongest reasons for staying independent – and happily more and more people are reaching the same conclusion.

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